UGA's Offense: Something Had to Change

ATHENS - A freshmen quarterback, an ineffective offensive line and a new coaching staff - 2016 was set up for a difficult offensive season.

And it was. The Bulldogs only scored more than 30 points four times last season. The Dawgs managed scoring over 30 only five times in 2015. Those two were a long departure from the 11 times UGA scored over 30 during the 2014 season alone. 

Its been a long two years offensively, and UGA coach Kirby Smart knows production on that side of the ball must increase if the team is to succeed. 

“We’ve got to be creative and be able to get the ball to the playmakers in space, and we’ve got some plays to do that with,” Kirby said. “I think Jacob, specifically, has taken good strides, but he has to continue to make good decisions and get the ball into the right spot.”

Over the last few weeks the Bulldogs’ offense has looked different during fundamental drills. The ball gets out quicker from the quarterbacks’ hands. More often than not, the ball is thrown to the perimeter - a more fast-paced style than we’ve seen over the last two years.

Players like Sony Michel and Mecole Hardman have been either flexed out to the slot or moved there from defense. Perimeter blocking has been a constant them.

“When you look at practice, Terry Godwin is like night and day to me to watch that kid. I was very honest last year about Terry playing tougher, playing bigger,” Kirby said. “The guy has blocked hard. He’s competed. He’s taking more reps. He’s such a better leader. I mean, to see him grown up means the world to me because I’ve seen that kid since his ninth grade year.  He’s a vital piece to that slot.”

The slot seems to be a point of emphasis in the drills made viewable to the media. While there are only two quarterbacks on scholarship right now, it appears offensive coordinator Jim Chaney is adapting the Bulldogs’ offensive style more to the two signal callers on campus now. Both Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm played in spread-style offensive systems in high school. That now appears to be more incorporated into what UGA will run this fall. 

“A lot of last year was the playbook and coming from a spread offense and getting under center - that was a big thing for me,” Eason admitted. “I feel a lot more comfortable than I did last year. I was still trying to figure out which way to turn on a given handoff.”

Even when Eason handed the ball off to star running back Nick Chubb or Michel last season, often there wasn’t much space to work with. This spring Kirby has been repeatedly vocal about the physical nature of UGA’s offensive line, and the success its been having against what most consider a strength of the program - the defensive front. 

“They’ve just been coming off the ball,” said linebacker Natrez Patrick of the offensive line's progression year over year. “They’ve been striking with physicality."

“They are doing a great job of picking up the protections,” Eason added.

So what’s the difference between this year’s offensive line and last’s? Patrick thinks its likely two things - size and motivation. 

“I’m not in the film room with the offensive line, but (Sam Pittman) is telling them something,” he said. “I think the’ve got a size edge, too.”

The line’s play has allowed everything else on the offense to mature and produce. 

“I think Jacob, specifically, has taken good strides,” Kirby said. “But he has to continue to make good decisions and get the ball into the right spot.”

Kirby also added that the offense is a work in progress. During the start of spring practices, it was the offense that was having its way along the line of scrimmage. But lately, the defense has started standing up to the push of the offense. 

“We’ve got to be able to run the ball consistently better, and we did that earlier in the spring. In the second scrimmage we didn’t do that, and there started to be flashbacks,” Kirby said. 

No one wants to see flashbacks of the last two years.

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