We’ve got a special treat for y’all today.
Garrett Shearman of UGAFootballLive.com was gracious enough to take time out of his busy schedule, which includes biting his nails about tomorrow, to answer ten questions about the impending War For The Oar/World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
First, here’s my reciprocation interview on UGAFootballLive.
And now, let’s hear Garrett’s thoughts on the game:
Neil Shulman: Nick Chubb being injured obviously hurts. But last year, we thought losing Todd Gurley hurt, too, and Chubb stepped up and rushed for 156 yards (albeit in a blowout loss). Can we expect to see either Keith Marshall and/or Sony Michel step up in a similar fashion?
Garrett Shearman: Keith Marshall and Sony Michel are both very talented backs.Marshall has looked much better since his injury against Tennessee in 2013, and he’s averaging 5.5 yards per carry on limited carries (33) thus far. I think he’ll need to be utilized more than he has been against Florida if Georgia wants to have a chance at controlling the pace of the game with the rushing attack like we have in the past. Sony Michel has just over 5.5 yards per carry on almost three times the amount of carries (89) and will start for the Dawgs. Brendan Douglas, who has performed well for Georgia in the past when running backs have been injured, will also get some reps at tailback. The problem with losing a power runner like Nick Chubb however, is that these speed backs like Marshall and Michel usually get their yards by slipping past defenders that have been fatigued after a few quarters of trying to tackle Chubb. Each available back for Georgia is very talented and very capable of amassing serious yardage, but their jobs would be a great deal easier if Chubb were running with them.
NS: Florida’s offensive line has improved tremendously since the spring and even since September. But I’m still not sure they’ll be able to handle Georgia’s front seven. What’s your take on that matchup?
GS: Georgia’s front seven, overall, has looked much improved from last year. This is particularly true with the defensive line; Georgia’s d-line gave up over 400 yards rushing in losses to rivals Florida (as you recall I’m sure) and Georgia Tech in 2014 but has really improved as a unit in 2015. Georgia is holding opponents to 120 yards per game on the ground, down from 166 per game in 2014. The improvement is largely due to some very talented newcomers, from freshman d-liners Trenton Thompson and Jonathan Ledbetter to transfer linebackers Chuks Amaechi and Jake Ganus, who leads the Bulldogs in tackles on the season. Though Florida will be one of the better rushing teams Georgia will face in 2015, I don’t see Dawgs giving up quite as many big plays against the Gators this year as they did in that embarrassing performance last year.
NS: How do you think Faton Bauta will fare in his first start against a hungry Florida defense that’s steaming after being abused by LSU?
GS: Bauta is definitely the most mobile of Georgia’s quarterbacks, which gives Georgia more room for offensive creativity than the Dawgs would have with a pure pocket passer under center. He’s a very quick, athletic quarterback with good size; he’s about 6’3″ and 220 pounds. If he can use his athleticism effectively to mask his weaker arm, I see him making a few plays. He’s sort of a wild card.
NS: How do you think Bauta’s inexperience affects Georgia in the passing game overall?
GS: Inexperience is the biggest thing Bauta has going against him. He’s an incredibly hard worker and a very vocal leader, but that only goes so far when you’ve never started a game in your college career. The silver lining, however, is that the lack of film available on Faton Bauta due to his lack of playing time makes it nearly impossible for Florida to prepare for him. After all, his playing style is vastly different than Lambert or Ramsey’s.
NS: What’s the latest on Jordan Jenkins and his injury?
GS: Jenkins has been practicing at full capacity and all signs indicate he is ready to play on Saturday. For those unaware, he had been nursing a slight groin injury that kept him out of the Missouri game on October 17.
NS: Who’s one player we may not have heard about but who could play a huge role for Georgia this weekend?
GS: Freshman wide receiver Terry Godwin was a highly-touted recruit, so many Florida fans may be aware of him already. His first stellar performance of the year came against Mizzou: in addition to racking up 50 punt return yards, Godwin caught six passes for 78 yards, including a 35-yard winding run he miraculously created on a bubble screen. Godwin can make plays when he has even the slightest separation from a defender, and Georgia is a team that loves to use short throws to evasive athletes like #5.
NS: Florida is playing for a trip to Atlanta, its first since 2009, meaning most of these current players have never been a part of one. Other than just being Florida-Georgia, which gets both sides pumped, what’s Georgia’s motivation?
GS: Before the Florida game last year, Georgia looked like a possible contender for the SEC championship before Florida’s powerful running game and smothering defensive line exposed some of Georgia’s greatest weaknesses. The Dawgs were flat out embarrassed against one of our biggest rivals, who at the time had a 3-3 record and a coach (who, oh by the way, played his college ball for UGA) whose head was being called for by fans and media outlets. That embarrassment stings, and Georgia knows they have a lot to prove after last year’s debacle.
NS: Mark Richt played his college ball at Miami, who just fired head coach Al Golden. Is there any chance that a loss in this game gets him wondering if he’s done all he can at Georgia, and that he should return to his alma mater as its next head coach?
GS: Richt said earlier this week that he wants to finish his coaching career at Georgia. The reasons we have to believe him are as follows:
a. UGA has been recruiting better in the past three years than they ever have during Mark Richt’s 15-year tenure at the school. For the first time in his career, Mark Richt landed the #1 overall player in the country (class of 2015) with Trenton Thompson, who has looked great for Georgia so far. The recruiting classes Georgia reeled in for 2014 and 2015 were the highest-rated classes Richt had secured since the mid 2000’s. Georgia’s 2016 recruiting class could very possibly be the first- or second- best class in the country, and is likely going to end as Coach Richt’s highest-ever ranked class.
b. Among these recruits is 5* quarterback Jacob Eason, the #1 QB prospect in the class of 2016. Richt averages one serious run at a national championship per highly-ranked quarterback recruit—Green and Shockley early on, Stafford in the mid-to-late 2000’s, Murray in the early 2010’s. If Eason becomes as good as he is as capable of becoming (watch his film if you haven’t already—his throwing mechanics are already so polished and he’s just 17), I say Richt can get the Dawgs at least sniffing a national championship in the next few years.
NS: What’s your key to the game for Georgia?
GS: If Georgia’s offense wants to be as effective as possible, it needs to get a rhythm going with high-percentage, conservative passes to its better athletes. If Michel, Marshall, Mitchell, McKenzie, or Godwin can make plays and fight for yardage, then Georgia can get it going and score points. We’ve seen them do it before…just not much in the past six quarters of play.
NS: Score prediction? And why?
GS: I see this one being pretty low scoring. Expect field goals and a few touchdowns. I’m hoping for a competitive game because I really think this one is a toss-up; I would take either team in a 20-16 game. And because I get to choose, I’m taking the Georgia Bulldogs in a 20-16 nailbiter.
Thank you, Garrett.