By Paul Westerdawg
I'm not in the dark place that so many message board visitors seem to be. I actually have quite a bit of optimism heading into next season, and I could easily see an 11-1 type season. Here's why:
1. Special Teams Improvement -- We need the kicking game to return to its normal level of mediocrity. They don't have to become great. They just can't be a dumpster fire which gives up ~8 TDs like this year. We gave up 3 kick returns plus several blocked punts and botched snaps. If we were merely medicore in special teams, we would have beaten Vanderbilt and potentially Clemson. Don't forget we had a kick returned for TD and a botched snap FG miss in a three point game on the road against Clemson. People say "Hire a special teams coach!" I say, "Just tell John Lilly that he can NEVER touch another punter, snapper or punt coverage unit for as long as he lives." This is fixable without a heart transplant.
2. Injury Improvement -- Blutarsky references Regression to the Mean pretty regularly when it comes to turnovers and injuries. He's right. We live in a world where knee injuries are going to be more common; however, we were well outside of the norm for injuries this year. We should rotate into a more healthy year just because the percentages dictate it.
3. Defensive Stabilization -- I've already said that I philosophically don't agree with what Grantham wants to do or how he goes about his business. However, if you take the 8 TDs from special teams out, and you get modest improvements from the younger UGA defenders, you will easily see a drop in points allowed per game of about 7 ppg next year. Floyd, the DBs and NGs will mature. They will be better next year. Even dumbass coaches look better when they don't have rookies. Not saying ours are dumbasses, but getting our scoring average back down to 22-23 points per game is a reasonable goal. This year Auburn was at 24 pts/game and Ohio State was at 21 pts / game. If we get to 23 per game with this offense and a healthy Gurley, that's probably win 11-1 season and a trip to the Georgia Dome.
4. The Schedule -- Auburn and South Carolina return a ton of players. However, most of the other teams on our schedule lose a ton of talent. Clemson, Missouri and Tennessee all lose a lot while Florida will be attempting to rebuild with a lame duck. At the same time, we swap LSU for Arkansas. I like that mix. I also like getting Clemson, Auburn, Tennessee and Georgia Tech at home.
5. Todd Gurley -- Todd Gurley will most likely be the best player in the country next year. If he's healthy, we have a puncher's chance against anyone and everyone. Especially in a 1 game elimination format, and that's what we're facing next year from the SECC title game through to the playoff.
6. Hutson Mason -- Honestly, I was worried that he was Joe Cox Part 2, but I've been very impressed with what I've seen so far. I may feel differently after the bowl game, but I think he's more than enough to manage the assets surrounding him next year.
The only big question I have next year for which there is no clear/obvious answer or low hanging fruit of improvement is Left Tackle. We have to get better there. I personally don't think that Theus is nearly as awful as the message boards paint him to be, but he needs to improve and take over the spot. He will have started around 25 games by the time Clemson rolls into Athens. That's enough to start showing a veteran presence.
Am I crazy? What are your thoughts?