5 biggest complaints Georgia fans have about 2016 season
Kirby Smart wasn’t expected to take Georgia to the College Football Playoff in his first season as head coach, but 2016 was a bumpier ride than many had hoped.
There have been some improvements in recent weeks, as the Bulldogs have strung together a couple of wins, but complaining is something that comes naturally to every fan — especially now that only Florida or Tennessee can win the SEC East.
The time will come for everyone to look toward next year with hope, but for now, let’s look at the biggest complaints Georgia fans have about this season.
1. Offensive line problems: There might be no more consistent cause for complaint than the Bulldogs’ offensive line. Georgia’s line has struggled for much of the season to open running lanes and protect quarterback Jacob Eason.
The Bulldogs are No. 66 nationally in rushing yards per game (174). With players like Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, that shouldn’t be the case. Georgia’s problems up front were most apparent against Florida, which held the Bulldogs to a minuscule 1.11 yards per carry.
The unit has fared only a little better in pass protection. Eason has been sacked an average of 2.1 times per game this season. That number doesn’t even factor in the amount of times Eason has been hurried.
Smart has correctly pointed out that his offensive line has faced some talented defensive fronts, but that’s often the norm in the SEC. There will need to be improvement moving forward at the position.
2. Lack of threats at receiver: When Eason has had time to throw, there haven’t been many downfield opportunities for him to take advantage of. Georgia’s receivers have performed admirably at times, especially Isaiah McKenzie early, but there aren’t enough weapons to give opponents anything to worry about.
McKenzie has already greatly surpassed his career totals this season and his emergence has been one of the team’s biggest positives. That the speedy slot receiver is Georgia’s leading pass catcher serves to highlight the deficiencies at that position. Terry Godwin, Riley Ridley and Javon Wims have each made plays this season, but they have also completely disappeared too often.
When they have had the chance to really make an impact in games, drops have occurred at an all-too-frequent pace. Drops have by far been the biggest complaint Georgia fans have with the receivers.
There have certainly been some signs for hope as this season nears its end, however. Ridley looks more comfortable with each passing week, Wims has put together a couple of strong performances in back-to-back games and Godwin remains a talented player who is capable of playing a big role.
Add in the bright future that tight end Isaac Nauta seems destined for, and this might not be a complaint for long, especially given the size of Georgia’s recruiting targets.
3. Special teams: Like the previous two complaints, this has been a common one throughout the season.
Georgia began the year with William Ham as its starting field goal kicker and Rodrigo Blankenship handling kickoff duties. Ham made less than half of his attempted field goals and Blankenship failed to put his kickoffs into the end zone with any regularity. Blankenship eventually won the field goal kicking duties and has turned those jeers to cheers, but it was a major cause for concern early on.
The kicking game wasn’t the only aspect of Georgia’s special teams that drew the ire of fans. In the opener, North Carolina returned the opening kickoff after halftime for a touchdown. That nearly happened again against Vanderbilt and set the tone for one of the Bulldogs’ worst games of the year.
Most of these issues have seemingly been ironed out, but it will be a long time before Georgia fans completely trust the team’s special teams units.
4. Offensive play calling: It can sometimes be hard to differentiate between play calling and talent when it comes to offensive success or failure.
There was very little chance that Georgia’s offense was going to lead the league with a true freshman quarterback, but the Bulldogs are among the worst teams in the country in scoring. Georgia is averaging just 22.6 points per game this season, higher than only Vanderbilt and South Carolina.
Jim Chaney has shown a lack of variation in his play calling during several games this year. Many fans have lamented that Georgia has gone run-run-pass too often and failed to show creativity. Then there have been times when the Bulldogs have made some baffling calls. The pitch to McKenzie on 4th-and-1 against Vanderbilt stands out as the shining example.
The two trick plays Saturday against Auburn were equally baffling.
Criticism is part of the job when it comes to being an offensive coordinator, but Chaney has had an interesting first season. Fortunately, he’s called a much more balanced game since moving to the coaches’ box during the past two weeks.
5. Close calls/what-ifs: This is likely to be the most enduring complaint for Bulldogs’ fans. Many had the right mindset entering the season that this year was going to be a transition, but the Bulldogs were picked to finish third in the East, and in the rearview it will be hard not to mourn some missed opportunities.
In a year when the SEC East could have potentially ended in a six-team gridlock at 4-4, Georgia was a couple of plays away from potentially making something of this season. Losing on the Hail Mary against Tennessee will haunt fans for a long time, as will the missed fourth down against Vanderbilt.
If those two plays have different outcomes, Georgia’s season looks completely different. Any team can play the “what-if” game, though, and the mistakes were part of the learning curve that fans expected in 2016.
William McFadden covers the University of Georgia for Saturday Down South. For news on everything happening between the hedges, follow him on Twitter @willmcfadden.