Georgia football: The 5 biggest blunders the coaching staff made in 2020
We are close to a weird 2020 season coming to an end for Georgia football. And in typical 2020 fashion, another postponement means that the Dawgs will be playing football on Dec. 19.
It won’t be in Atlanta, though. Hours before Alabama and Florida meet in what appears to be a College Football Playoff play-in game for the Gators and a chance to seal the No. 1 seed for the Crimson Tide, Georgia will be celebrating a delayed Senior Day game against Vanderbilt, a team that will simply be looking to get this year over with.
You won’t blame the players for tuning in to CBS when returning to their dorms and wondering what could have been, though. One glaring blunder overshadows them all, but here are 5 decisions that I’m sure Kirby Smart and his staff would want a do-over on this year if they had another opportunity:
1. Leaving Stetson Bennett out there a few games too long
The comments JT Daniels made after his debut against Mississippi State raised eyebrows across Bulldog nation.
“I wasn’t cleared for Arkansas. From then it was a coach’s decision,” he said.
We can only wonder what the outcome would have been if Daniels, and not Bennett, had started against Alabama and Florida. I happen to think a split (with a win over Florida) would have been the worst that could have happened, meaning the Dawgs would potentially be in a position to clinch the East for the 4th consecutive year.
Smart didn’t help matters with his sidestepping of the issue. If nothing, his stubbornness caused him to hitch his wagon to a walk-on with a limited ceiling instead of a proven FBS starter. I hate to keep beating a dead horse, but it will be the biggest “what if” of the year.
2. Not giving D’Wan Mathis a fair chance to prove his worth
I still don’t know why D’Wan Mathis started the season-opener against Arkansas only to be pulled early in the 2nd quarter in favor of Bennett.
I understand that Mathis had never played in a college football game before and Smart likely didn’t want to risk spoiling his confidence. But why put Mathis out there at all with a short leash? If the staff didn’t truly trust his abilities, why not simply start Bennett?
Bennett was able to help the Dawgs win after a slow start, but the decision to pull Mathis so quickly is still a curious decision. I’m not sure if it was a “blunder” in the classic sense, but it wasn’t a great message to send.
3. Failure to use Zamir White effectively against Florida
The Dawgs had myriad issues in their loss to Florida in Jacksonville — ending a 3-game winning streak against the Gators. Not using Zamir White consistently enough was a critical one.
White had a house call on the opening play from scrimmage, taking a handoff 75 yards to the end zone to give Georgia the early lead. He only touched it 6 more times and gained 28 more yards that afternoon.
That’s not a good look, especially against your rival.
Would Georgia have won if it had leaned on its No. 1 running back more? Probably not. But for him to have 7 carries in a game the Dawgs needed to keep control of the division race and keep themselves in the Playoff hunt was inexcusable.
4. Failure to consistently utilize its tight ends
The Dawgs brought in Tre’ McKitty to become a reliable target in the receiving game, and he’s shown his abilities while battling a few injuries. The problem is that they haven’t utilized the tight end enough this year in an offense that was supposed to take a step forward in 2020.
I had hoped that Darnell Washington would make an immediate impact, but he has not been as involved as I thought he’d be. The same could be said for John FitzPatrick, who’s been largely quiet outside of a touchdown catch against Arkansas.
It looks like it might be getting better with Daniels holding the reins, but watching Kyle Pitts show off in Gainesville makes one wish the Dawgs had something similar.
5. Not making adjustments to account for its weaknesses — until it was too late
Smart caught lightning in a bottle in 2017 with a run to the National Championship Game helped by Jake Fromm, a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, and terrific defense.
Georgia certainly has a great defense this year but was never going to have a pair of running backs like Chubb and Michel. That made the quarterback decision that much more important; even if you don’t have an other-worldly running game and strong defensive play, an elite quarterback can take you places. Florida’s leading running back has 417 yards rushing on a team that has a decent, yet not mind-blowing defense. The guy they have at quarterback is a Heisman candidate, though.
Smart clearly made the wrong call on Bennett and rode him too long until finally putting in Daniels, weeks after he was cleared to play. Hopefully he can use the lessons learned this year to develop a well-rounded offensive approach in 2021.
Considering his track record, though, you can’t blame Georgia fans for being a bit skeptical.