Any way you break it down, there is only one positive for the Dawgs coming out of the game against Nicholls on Saturday.
But that is where it ends. After the opening drive, the game for the Dawgs was terrible. The five play, 67 yard drive capped off by a Nick Chubb six-yard touchdown run seemed, at that time, to send a message that the Kirby Smart era would take no prisoners. A Juwan Briscoe interception on the first Nicholls drive supported that line of thought. After that, the Dawgs looked very ordinary and very un-SEC.
” A lot of guys didn’t execute, didn’t play well, and that’s my responsibility, ” said Smart after the game. “We’ve got to improve because there are good teams down the road.”
Did they underestimate Nicholls? Maybe, to an extent. After the win over North Carolina, the Dawgs were bumped up to number nine in the AP Top 25. It could have been the fact that the players, as the old cliché goes, “read the press clippings.” However, I have never believed that line. Certainly the team, to a man, thought they would win. But once a game starts and the hitting starts, all that “looking past an opponent” comes to an end.
Were they unprepared? I really don’t think so. There is a lot of work that goes into a game, whether it’s against Nicholls or Alabama. The Dawgs were prepared, on their end. What they may not have been prepared for is how Nicholls approached the game. “It’s not surprising, ” said Chubb after the game. “We knew these guys came out here to play for their first game of the season. We expected them to come with a lot of energy and they showed it.”
Was starting Jacob Eason a mistake? No, it was not. If this kid is going to be the “next big thing” then he has to be thrown into the mix. The Nicholls game was the perfect time to give him a start. He finished 11-for-20 for 204 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Not bad. Not good. But the young man should get better. “When you start a true freshman at quarterback, it’s always challenging,” said Smart. “There are no easy games. He’s got to continue to improve, manage the huddle and make good decisions. He’s a freshman, but he’s a talented freshman who can make plays. It’s a balancing act.”
I think, more than anything else, the “learning curve” for this team is very large and it will take a while, maybe a whole season, for things to get on track. The Dawgs have a new head coach, who is a head coach for the first time. With the exception of a few, they have a whole new coaching staff. That means new plays, new schemes and a whole new way of doing things. It is brand new for the returning players, and more than brand new for the kids just out of high school, like Jacob Eason.
I do not expect too much out of the 2016 UGA season. The fact the team is 2-0 at this time is pretty good. If the Dawgs end up with less than four losses this season, I think the season will be considered a success.
Many UGA fans will be quick to point out that Nick Saban’s first Alabama team in 2007 finished with a 7–6 record. They ended the regular season with four straight losses including a loss at home to Louisiana-Monroe. The next season, Alabama went 12-0 in the regular season under Saban before losing to Florida in the SEC Championship game and then losing to Utah in the Sugar Bowl.
True, Kirby Smart is no Nick Saban, at least not yet.
But he is as close as UGA is going to get.