Why Saturday should determine James Coley's future at Georgia
Win or go home.
That should be the mindset for Florida and Georgia when they square off Saturday in Jacksonville in what’s essentially a de facto SEC East Championship.
And it should also be the mindset for Georgia offensive coordinator James Coley.
Kirby Smart isn’t going to come out and say it, so I will — Coley should be coaching for his job against Florida.
Does that mean he’ll be fired on the spot if the Dawgs come up short for the first time in 3 years? No. But should he be let go at season’s end if it’s a loss and Georgia is held under 24 points for the 4th time in the past 5 games vs. Power 5 opponents? Yes.
I realize I’m preaching to the choir here. Georgia fans weren’t shy about their feelings for Coley and the offense when the boo birds rang down from the home crowd in each of the past 2 games. I’m usually not a part of the “fire this guy” choir. More times than not, that take is a bit too reactionary. That’s why I felt the need to say this now and not shortly after possibly watching Georgia’s offense sputter in a losing effort Saturday.
There are the obvious reasons why Saturday is massive for Coley. The Florida rivalry, the division title defense, the Playoff push, etc. That won’t be lost on anyone who tunes in.
But for fun (probably not so fun for Georgia fans), let’s think about this scenario playing out.
Coming off a bye week and a pair of uninspiring offensive performances — don’t use weather as an excuse for South Carolina, too — Coley will have had ample time to go back to the drawing board. At least he better. It’s no secret that the predictability of his offense needs to be, um, lower. If it’s not, Todd Grantham’s defense, which returns the likes of All-SEC caliber pass-rushers Jon Greenard and Jabari Zuniga, will devour Coley’s vanilla offense.
The Gators are easily the highest-ranked scoring defense that Georgia has seen all year at No. 12 (next highest is Notre Dame at No. 29). That’s for a group that’s been banged up dealing with injuries to the aforementioned Greenard and Zuniga, as well as an early-season injury to shutdown cornerback CJ Henderson. The Gators weathered the storm with their injuries, including the one to their starting quarterback, Feleipe Franks.
That’s another thing to take into account Saturday. How awful of a look would it be for Coley if Kyle Trask significantly outplayed Jake Fromm? It’ll be a matchup of someone who came into this year having not started a game since 2011 compared to the preseason first-round draft prospect. If it looks like Fromm can’t find an open receiver while Trask is throwing into open windows all afternoon, yikes.
Fire up the CBS shots of a nervous Coley mumbling his frustration into his headset.
I know what you’re thinking, Georgia fans. Why so negative? What if this scenario doesn’t happen?
After all, this was the game in which Georgia turned it around last year. Coming off the LSU loss in which Jim Chaney’s play-calling was public enemy No. 1, the Dawgs found their offensive groove in the 2nd quarter against Florida. It was the turning point in the season when Fromm started connecting with Isaac Nauta for completion after completion.
The Isaac Nauta Drive pic.twitter.com/FnKMMq9mn4
— SEConCBS (@SEConCBS) October 27, 2018
Maybe Fromm and Eli Wolf will have that kind of moment Saturday. Perhaps the possible return of Lawrence Cager will spark the offense.
Something has to.
And I suppose the thing that needs to be sparked is the passing game. D’Andre Swift is still the dude leading the No. 6 Power 5 rushing offense. Among Power 5 backs with at least 80 rushes, Swift ranks 4th with 6.8 yards per carry. Swift isn’t in search of a midseason turnaround like he was heading into the Florida game last year. He’s coming off a season-high 179 rushing yards in a game in which he was the entire offense for Georgia.
So imagine if even Swift looks like he’s running into a brick wall every time against that impressive Florida front 7. Yikes for that, too.
That’s the biggest frustration that Georgia fans should have. The weapons are there. Fromm and Swift are proven players who could be in their final seasons in Athens.
Everyone knows about the inexperience at receiver. But why has it been so difficult to scheme open looks for George Pickens and Demetris Robertson? That can’t all be on their route-running, can it? They were 5-star recruits for a reason. There should still be ways to get them the ball in space against SEC defenses.
At the same time, I wouldn’t bet on them getting open against Henderson and Marco Wilson. I’d feel more confident betting on Mullen scheming a big play for Kadarius Toney, who is expected to play in his first game since suffering a shoulder injury in Week 2.
That’s the thing I keep coming back to. If there’s a notable disparity between Mullen and Coley as a play-caller in a losing effort, forget about it. There’s nothing Coley should be able to do to save his job. He’ll have been at least partially responsible for Georgia not reaching the high preseason bar it set for itself. The Dawgs won’t be playing for an SEC Championship or a possible Playoff berth, and it won’t be the Dawgs’ No. 5 scoring defense that’s too blame (though I realize Smart would understandably take a bunch of grief if that were to happen).
It wasn’t long ago that Georgia fans were counting their lucky stars that Chaney was off to Tennessee and Coley was taking over the offense. Times have changed. Let’s see if Georgia’s offense can finally change, too.
If not, well, a change should be coming at season’s end.