Junkyard Mail: Which 2015 game is a ‘must’ win for the Dawgs?

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Georgia and Alabama last met in football in the 2012 SEC Championship game. (John Kelley / UGA)
Georgia and Alabama last met in football in the 2012 SEC Championship game. (John Kelley / UGA)

Georgia and Alabama last met in football in the 2012 SEC Championship game. (John Kelley / UGA)

Let’s get right to some of this week’s Junkyard Mail with a reader posing a question that I found tougher to answer than you might assume. …

BassinDawg writes: If you could pick one “must win” game for the Dawgs this year, would it be Bama, Florida or Tech?

Wow, that would be a tough one any season, but considering the way the Dawgs dropped the ball, so to speak, against Florida and Tech last season, my feelings on this are even more complicated.

Strategically, I’d have to rank Alabama first among the must-win games and Florida second, but my gut emotional response is to say the must win is Georgia Tech, because I don’t want to see the Dawgs lose to them two consecutive years. Still, Bama and Florida mean more in terms of trying to get to Atlanta and beyond. Especially Florida. Georgia definitely doesn’t need to let them get another streak going, either.

However, my brother Tim points out Alabama likely will be a Top 5 team when the Dawgs play them in Athens Oct. 3, and because of that he thinks it’s a must win not only for any chance of running the table or making it to Atlanta, but for moving up into the Top 4. And if Georgia can beat Bama, the other two should be wins, Tim thinks, since the Dawgs have another week to bone up on the triple option with Georgia Southern the week before facing Tech, and Florida will have a largely inexperienced team and a new coaching staff. Tim also says flatly that winning all SEC games is more important than beating Tech.

My brain agrees; my heart has a harder time getting on-board with that idea. Bama is definitely an important game that has the most potential upside for Georgia if they win, in terms of national ranking for a possible run to the College Football Playoff. Of course, the Dawgs most likely could still make it to Atlanta with a loss to Bama if they sweep the East. And, bottom line, they’d probably have to win the SEC to have a shot at the playoff no matter what happens against Bama in Athens.

On the other side of the coin, if they do make it to Atlanta, they may well face Bama again, and that would be the more important time to beat the Crimson Tide.

Could a Georgia team that won the SEC championship but lost to Tech make it to the playoff? That would depend largely on the records of the other teams in contention and how impressive the Dawgs looked overall throughout the season.

What it boils down to: I’d much rather not lose to Tech again than just about anything else, but beating Bama would give the team the biggest boost, while a loss to Florida might endanger Georgia getting to the SEC championship. Clear as mud. Yeah, I’m equivocating, but I can’t help it.

What do you think?

Defensive lineman Chris Mayes works with a tackling dummy this spring. (Sean Taylor / UGA)

Defensive lineman Chris Mayes works with a tackling dummy this spring. (Sean Taylor / UGA)

Jim Mansour writes on the Blawg Facebook page: I think Jim P. is on to something [with his letter last week wondering whether the Dawgs going with leaner defensive linemen has hurt their ability to stop the run]. UGA’s defense last year was good against spread teams but gave way against the inside power running games against Florida and Tech. Perhaps we need to be able to interchange a smaller, quicker DL for 350-pound behemoths, depending on who we’re playing. For what it’s worth, Ole Miss had a similar problem last year when their DL was overrun by both LSU and Arkansas.

Would it be worth having a big guy or two in the mix of six or so defensive linemen that Georgia rotates, for use mainly against power running teams? Yeah, probably. But more often these days the Dawgs have to handle spread teams running, and that’s where the behemoths, as Jim called them, can be a liability. Like I said last week, I think a middle ground between big, beefy linemen and fast but undersized linemen is the way to go. Florida and Tech were able to run on Georgia, but against the spread-type teams like Auburn, the Dawgs’ defensive front handled the run extremely well. Just how good Georgia will be up front this season will depend on how veterans John Atkins and Chris Mayes play in the middle and how quickly heralded freshmen Trent Thompson and Jonathan Ledbetter establish themselves.

Also via Facebook, Justin Stephens writes: As I watched the Missouri game on tape from last year (yeah, I recorded it), I saw Faton Bauta going down the sideline fired up after a UGA TD. After the spring game, I think he may be sneaking around the chicken coop and be the next UGA QB. Thoughts?

Faton Bauta during last season's game against Troy. (Jim Hipple / UGA)

Faton Bauta during last season’s game against Troy. (Jim Hipple / UGA)

Interesting way of putting it, Justin. I think whether Bauta winds up as Georgia’s starter will depend mainly on whether the strong-armed Brice Ramsey is able to improve the part of the game that takes place between the QB’s ears. So far, his decision-making has sometimes looked questionable. And while Bauta doesn’t have Ramsey’s arm, he seemed capable of making most throws during the G-Day game and also showed, I think, a greater pocket presence. He made good decisions, in other words, and frequently checked down to dumping the ball off to his backs. That might not provide the downfield passing threat that Ramsey would, but as Mark Richt noted this week when he spoke at a fan gathering in Savannah, whoever the starter is, “It will be important for him to not force the  ball into coverage. He must know when to check it down … dumping the ball off to [Nick] Chubb or Sony Michel is not a bad thing.” Richt also made that point at an earlier gathering in Athens, noting that Bauta had shown leadership by learning to check down in his receiver rotation. “Anytime you can dump the ball to Nick Chubb is a good decision,” Richt said. As I’ve written before, Ramsey probably has the edge in the competition because he has more experience, in addition to the big arm, but Bauta is hard-working and heady, two qualities you really want in a QB, and he presents a running threat that Ramsey doesn’t. Only Richt and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer know how close the two top quarterbacks really are, but based on what I’m hearing from fans post-G-Day, Bauta is becoming a popular pick.

The Dawgs and Jackets will be back in Athens this year, where they last played in 2013. (John Kelley / UGA)

The Dawgs and Jackets will be back in Athens this year, where they last played in 2013. (John Kelley / UGA)

Switching sports to basketball, Bonnie Anthony writes: Bill, I was so happy to hear that the coming season won’t see us opening the regular season with the hated Jackets, as we did last year. But I’m not sure I like the fact that they’ve scheduled this year’s game in Athens for three days after exams are over. Do you really think UGA’s students will stick around to help pack the Steg and make it loud? Love my basketball Dawgs!

You’re right, Bonnie, about it being good not to open with the in-state rivalry, particularly since Mark Fox teams tend to get off to something of a slow start. Losing 80-73 to a vastly inferior Tech team in last year’s opening game in Atlanta (after an exhibition match against Georgia Southwestern) didn’t end up keeping the Dawgs out of the NCAA tourney, but it definitely was a game I think Fox would have preferred to play later. I think the only real downside to playing Tech during the holiday break is, as you noted, not having the students there. But at least the team will have a few games under its belt by that point. And some of those holiday crowds have been pretty responsive. I was at the big December win over Seton Hall last year, and the crowd got plenty loud and the team fed off that energy, slamming dunks and showing off for the fans. Generally, I think the best time for the basketball Bulldogs to play Tech would be right before the SEC schedule starts in early January, even if it’s a few days before classes start. Would students be willing to return to Athens from holiday break a couple of days early for the big grudge match? If Fox’s program continues on an upward trend, I think so.

Got something you want to discuss concerning UGA athletics? Or a question for the Junkyard Blawg? Email junkyardblawg@gmail.com.

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

Junkyard Blawg mugBill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.

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