Bowl win shows flashes of Georgia's future, but questions remain
While Kirby Smart sorts out his quarterback situation in 2016, he’ll know Saturday’s TaxSlayer Bowl win revealed one more offensive weapon: Terry Godwin throwing a pass out of the Wild Dawg.
Godwin’s touchdown pass was the first for a non-Georgia quarterback (Thomas Brown) since 2005, which, of course, happened to be the year Smart coached the Georgia running backs.
However the offense plays out, Smart could also point to added experience as eight freshmen saw significant time against Penn State, including in the fourth quarter. However it’s measured, the program still has a five-game winning streak, and many of the remaining players were a part of many of the 40 wins the senior class just achieved. That experience should help ease the transition for incoming star recruit QB Jacob Eason and other recruits.
That offense could use a wrinkle or two like the Wild Dawg early in the 2016 season with games against North Carolina, and road games at Missouri and Ole Miss all before presumed SEC East favorite Tennessee visits on Oct. 1. The biggest questions of the offseason will be when — or if — Eason officially becomes the starter, if other quarterbacks will share any time and how much patience Smart has with Eason when turnovers or other trouble arrives.
Eason has drawn many comparisons to Matthew Stafford because of their recruiting interest and (potential) playing time as a freshman.
In 2006, Stafford started as a freshman, but it wasn’t easy. He didn’t start until the third game of the season against UAB. QB Joe Tereshinski III got the start in wins over Western Kentucky and South Carolina, but then Joe Cox started the fourth game against Colorado and the next week against Ole Miss before Stafford came in.
“Matthew took his lumps a bunch,” former coach Mark Richt told the Athens Banner-Herald before Georgia played Missouri this season. “I remember a couple of ballgames, it was rough. I think it’s tough to start a true freshman for sure. If guys can come in at the mid-year it gives you a little bit more of a chance if you have a spring prior to it, but whether that happens or not, you just can’t simulate the speed, the sounds, the sensation of playing in front of that many people. Not only in the stands, but on national TV and the attention that is brought on about it. Being able to manage your social life, being able to manage the academics. Even the most talented guys and the most mature, they hit a wall somewhere along the way and you’ve got to help them through it.”
Of course, QB Brice Ramsey could also remain with the program and make it the second straight spring and summer with a three-man quarterback competition. But he only got one series at quarterback against Penn State. Lambert’s play Saturday was somewhat of a microcosm of his season. He hit Godwin for a touchdown late in the first half, and didn’t throw an interception, but missed chances early in the game and finished with only 115 passing yards and less than 2,000 for the season. Could 2016 be another year of week-to-week uncertainty at quarterback?
No matter how the Smart Era begins, coaches and remaining players alike seem more than ready to turn the page. Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that there was a “mutiny” during a season in which Richt was fired, only two coaches remained with the program, and two others — offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and linebackers coach Mike Ekeler — have yet to land jobs.
“When you play a game like this and you have — I’ll call it — a bit of a mutiny; well, it IS mutiny — it’s important that you bring the kids together, and I thought it was important we did that,” Rocker told the AJC in a concourse beneath EverBank Field. “Those kids, we kept them together, and that’s what B-Mac (Bryan McClendon) did a great job with. Everybody focused and everybody stayed the course.”